Our working conditions are our patients’ healing conditions.

They are one and the same.

Nurses will do whatever we have to do to advocate for our patients, our communities, the quality of the care we deliver and our own survival. Whether we engage in campaigns, petitions, job actions, media outreach, pickets or even strikes, our hearts are with our patients and the practice we so cherish.

Sometimes it feels like a charade.

You have a contract, signed by both parties, but the hospital has found multiple ways to violate the current agreement.

You file grievances, but administration rules against you in the ‘kangaroo court’ of steps.

You go to arbitration after a year, maybe longer.

The arbitrator gets paid a lot and in order to be chosen, he or she has to be as nonpartisan as possible. Thus, the decision is often shrouded by political considerations.

So, the contract expires. Nurses are activated!

They let the negotiating team know what they need to survive at work and at home.

You make all the right arguments: nurses testify to the daily traumas we endure in attempting to provide safe, quality care; to the need to retire with dignity; to the family and school obligations pulling at us; to the fear of violence often visited upon us as the frontline emissaries of a dysfunctional healthcare system.

The millionaires plead poverty

And the bosses tell you they have no money, yet you know there are exorbitant salaries for top execs (especially in the private sector where real estate speculation, purchases and mergers cost millions), huge amounts of money spent on consultants and marketers, on technology systems, equipment purchases, drugs and a variety of practices—and you have no say in any of that. But you have to pay for it.

They offer union members crumbs to divide among ourselves. They want to “charge” us in order to pay for safe staffing. They actually expect us to fund our own contract! All of this without opening up the books for us to examine how they actually spend the money—money generated by caregivers like us.

What we know

Over 25,000 nurses are in the process of negotiating contracts as I write this. The private sector complains about the unjust healthcare system but routinely manipulates it. The public sector is grossly underfunded and pits one set of workers against another as a result. Neither private nor public administrative groups energetically support Expanded and Improved Medicare for All, the only viable long-term solution to the morass that is healthcare in New York, and in the nation.

Likewise, neither entity supports minimum nurse patient ratios, the critical element in providing safe, quality care. So, as they maneuver their way through the delivery cobwebs, the workers and patients continue to suffer.

No victories have ever been won without sacrifice and struggle. The Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1937—when auto workers occupied the factory, risking injury and even death—resulted in the granting of multiple workers’ rights and union recognition for the United Auto Workers (UAW) which grew from 30,000 to 500,000 members within a year.

The “wildcat” Postal Workers Strike of 1970 granted federal workers the right to bargain collectively and transformed post offices into safer, more hygienic environments. And in 2005, when then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger attempted to roll back his state’s nurse-patient ratios law, the California Nurses Association (CNA) ignited a broad grassroots movement that resulted in the stunning defeat of a series of anti-worker initiatives launched by the governor, who was ultimately forced out of office. The ratios prevailed!

What we must do

We can’t wait for our hospital “leaders” to find the courage to support a just healthcare system that bans predatory insurance companies, pharmaceuticals and overpriced consultants and that recognizes nurses’ and caregivers’ desperate need for adequate staffing.

Nurses and caregivers have an ethical and historic responsibility to radically alter the way health care is delivered. We do this in contract campaigns, in the legislature, in our communities and in the streets. In years to come, our heroic role in this transformation will be celebrated.

The time for universal, accessible, affordable healthcare and safe staffing ratios is NOW.

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